Arts & Entertainment Editor
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers for the plot of Earwig and the Witch; if you don’t want it spoiled, come back after you’ve watched it!
In 1995, Pixar made film history by making the first 3D animated movie. Since then, movie companies have been continuously trying to innovate animation in their films; as the years have progressed, 3D animation has become more realistic looking. Just comparing The Incredibles (released in 2004) and The Incredibles 2 (released in 2018) shows the advances that have been made in 14 years. However, as 3D animation has developed, the question of 2D animation’s relevance has become more prevalent. When it comes to 2D animated movies, Studio Ghibli is a household name. I’m a massive lover of Studio Ghibli films. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite movie, The Wind Rises never fails to make me emotional, and My Neighbor Totoro makes me wish my neighbor was Totoro. When I heard they were going to release their first 3D animated movie, I was intrigued. On Feb. 5, Earwig and the Witch was released on HBO Max.
Earwig and the Witch has beautiful visuals, but that didn’t excuse the fact that the plot was incredibly confusing. The film opens with Earwig’s mother, who’s a witch, being chased by a little yellow car (remember this detail; it’ll come back later) as the theme song “Don’t Disturb Me” plays in the background. It turns out Earwig’s mother (who’s unnamed) is being chased by 12 witches, and she needs to give baby Earwig up to St. Morwald’s Home for Children. This is where the first confusing element comes into play. There isn’t any explanation in the film as to who these 12 witches are. We assume they’re powerful or just have some sort of leverage over Earwig’s mother because she says that she must give Earwig up until she can shake these witches. The 12 witches are name-dropped again during a flashback scene, but that didn’t explain their importance.
The next time we see Earwig, she’s now a young child (assuming to be six or seven) and is causing chaos with Custard, Earwig’s meek companion at the children’s home. The audience learns that Earwig doesn’t want to get adopted because she feels like having a “normal family” would be too much work. Does this mean she’s aware that she’s a witch’s daughter? Did the Matron tell Earwig, who is now named Erica Wigg because Earwig was ‘not a proper name for a child,’ that her mother was a witch? In the note that Earwig’s mother left, she mentions that she’s a witch. Earwig never finds this note, and there isn’t a scene where the Matron tells Earwig about the letter; it’s just left hanging (which seems to be the theme of this movie).
The film continues as Earwig gets adopted by the witch, Bella Yaga, and a demon disguised as a human, Mandrake. Before Earwig leaves the children’s home, she finds a cassette tape with the song “Don’t Disturb Me” on it. As the song plays, we see Earwig’s mother performing in a band. As she leaves, Earwig voices her reluctance to being adopted very adamantly, saying, “This is the first time in my life that I’m doing something I’ve been forced to do!” After they arrive at the house, Bella Yaga makes it clear that Earwig is just there to help her out with her witchy business. Earwig happily agrees (as long as Bella Yaga teaches her witchcraft) because, earlier, she expressed her dislike for adoption, “all they want is for us to be pretty little dolls on display.” This is a small, but profound moment that criticizes a common reason parents want kids. Kids are often seen as either the help or as dolls that are meant to sit there and look pretty.
Bella Yaga doesn’t express any interest in teaching Earwig magic, so she takes matters into her own hands. Earwig’s snarky nature drove me crazy. She’s an angry, young girl who does anything to rebel against Bella Yaga and Mandrake because she didn’t want to get adopted. She pokes a hole into her wall in order to find Bella Yaga’s disappearing room, but ends up creating a portal to Mandrake’s room (and also a view into the bathroom because, magic rooms, am I right?). She ends up successfully learning it because she had the help of Thomas, Bella Yaga’s black cat familiar, and she protects the two against malicious magic that might be sprung on them (Bella Yaga threatens them with worms often). Earwig gets the idea to give Bella Yaga an extra pair of hands because that’s all she’ll talk about. This ends up working out successfully, and that leads to worms being dropped into Earwig’s room as a form of punishment. However, because she was protected, the worms were ineffective. She does realize that, if the worms stayed there, Bella Yaga would know that Earwig was teaching herself magic, so she feeds the worms through that hole that was made earlier in the film.
In typical “worst-case scenario” fashion, the worms made their way into Mandrake’s room. Mandrake’s only purpose in the film is to“not be disturbed,” so the worms didn’t pan out nicely for him. He opens the portal through the wall in his demon form and marches towards Bella Yaga. Earwig makes a snarky comment and then manages to make it into the portal. This is where things get extra confusing.
Earwig finds out that Mandrake and Bella Yaga were in the band with Earwig’s mother. Flashback scenes commence that show Earwig’s mother trying to kiss Mandrake in a little yellow car (from the beginning of the movie), but Bella Yaga swerves the car, so they don’t kiss. Does this mean Earwig’s mother and Mandrake were dating? Is Earwig Mandrake’s daughter? Is Mandrake aware of this? None of these questions were answered, as Mandrake steps back into his room. Earwig questions him on his rockstar life, which triggers another flashback of how the band broke up. The 12 witches were brought up again; Earwig’s mother didn’t want to be controlled by them, so she left. Was Bella Yaga part of these 12 witches? Did 12 turn into 11 when Earwig’s mother left? Was it Bella Yaga who was chasing Earwig’s mother in the beginning because she left? No idea! All of these questions were left unanswered. To top off all of the confusion, after Bella Yaga, Mandrake, and Earwig make up, the movie ends with Earwig’s mother showing up at their doorstep (with Mandrake’s favorite meal, so they had to be romantically involved . . . right?) at Christmas.
Then the movie ends. Yup, it just drops you off at a very unsatisfying ending that begs for a sequel. I had so many questions (obviously) and was slightly shocked when the movie ended. The first thing I said was, “It’s over?!” It seems like Studio Ghibli was banking on the fact that this was their first-ever 3D animated film, that the plot wasn’t thought through very well.
The logline for Earwig and the Witch was “the first 3D animated Studio Ghibli film,” which shows the true intentions of the film. It wasn’t meant to be a groundbreaking, emotional movie about a girl trying to find a home in an unexpected place. It was just meant to show that Studio Ghibli can keep up with their competition. In October of 2020, Lupin III: the First was released in the U.S. by GKIDS (the same American distributor as Earwig and the Witch). The film was critically acclaimed for its transition from comic book form to 3D animation, and the fun, heist plotline. All of the reviews that the GKIDS Instagram promoted on Earwig have been about the 3D animation, not about the content of the movie.
Sure, the movie had beautiful visuals. There have been a few reviews that called the animation “old and clunky;” however, I felt like it worked for the vibe that the movie was going for. The characters were eclectic, and the animation reflected that. The movie also had some signature Studio Ghibli nature shots, but that’s the only element where the movie actually felt like it was made by Studio Ghibli. It didn’t have much action going on and didn’t have any emotional pull to the narrative. As Studio Ghibli’s first 3D movie, it fell flat on its face.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Studio Ghibli / NHK Enterprise